During a lively debate at the NEC Users Group seminar someone asked why we were talking about collaboration when the contract only asks for “a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation”, what followed was a discussion on the difference between those two concepts.  It’s an interesting distinction and this blog seeks to answer the following questions -

  • What is the difference between collaboration and cooperation?
  • How is the NEC3 contract written to compel the latter and facilitate the former?
  • Assuming collaboration is a more beneficial state than cooperation what practical steps can be taken to achieve such an environment?

Anyone can cooperate.  Obeying the speed limit, putting the rubbish out, signing a contract.  These actions are evidence of cooperation – assisting someone or complying with their requests.

Collaboration is different.  It requires a positive choice to be made.  Working jointly on an activity or project is collaborative working and that requires shared ownership and a shared concept of a common problem.  Communication is required, along with potentially negotiation and compromise. 

So the distinction between cooperation and collaboration could be defined as the difference in how we participate, it’s either active or inactive.  People can cooperate by taking no action at all.  It would be hard to say the same about collaboration.

So in order to collaborate we must communicate, possibly negotiate and compromise whilst taking positive actions.  It sounds like hard work! 

How is the NEC3 contract written to compel cooperation and facilitate collaboration?

The NEC3 contract outlines a framework in which to cooperate.  It even makes that cooperation a contractual obligation in the form of clause 10.1 –

The Employer, the Contractor, the Project Manager and the Supervisor shall act as stated in this contract and in a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation.

Here are some examples of where the NEC3 contract provides processes to impose cooperation and goes further to facilitate collaboration –

  • Early warnings and risk reduction meetings – communicating potential issues, making and considering proposals, seeking solutions advantageous to all those who will be affected and agreeing actions to be taken.  This is clearly a collaborative approach to problem solving and integral to the NEC3 suite of contracts.
  • Programme submission, acceptance and update – communicating and articulating the plan, allowing a considered response and providing for regular updates to keep everyone informed.  An accepted plan of how the project is going to get from start to finish promotes shared ownership and a shared concept of common objectives.
  • Compensation events – notifications, responses and quotations relating to compensation events all have sanctions described in the contract to improve the momentum of decision making and not allow issues to stagnate.  Commitments, either contractual or otherwise, to raise notices and respond in a timely fashion are clearly evidence of fostering a collaborative environment not just one of cooperation.  Don’t forget that those timescales are the maximum and there is no imperative to use up all the time! Real collaboration would recognise when those timescales must be bettered for the common good and the NEC3 concept of Project Manager’s assumptions can assist in streamlining that process even further.
  • Incentivised contract options – either through target cost options with shared savings or through secondary options (X6 Bonus for early Completion and X12 Partnering) the project team can be further incentivised to work collaboratively, cost and time savings now become a shared benefit and a common goal – both critical elements to collaborative working.

As we can see above the NEC3 contract is embedded with processes that engender at least cooperation however it cannot force the positive actions and assertiveness that results in collaboration.

What are the real and practical steps that can be taken to achieve a collaborative project environment?

Building on the NEC3 contract’s framework for collaborative working as described above, outlined below are 6 simple and practical guidelines which can be followed by all  –

  1. Adhere stringently to clause 10.1 – and not just the friendly second part – it’s critical that those parties to the contract “act as stated in this contract” - only in that consistent environment can trust, cooperation and ultimately collaboration grow.
  2. Utilise clause 16 as it was intended – the early warning mechanism in the NEC3 is not pre-notification of a compensation event.  This is where the contractual relationship can be made and broken.  Use early warnings as stated in the contract and you will benefit as the contract intended.
  3. You don’t need to agree the programme but it does need accepting – the Accepted Programme is not called the agreed programme, or the Contractor’s programme and it’s not a commercial weapon or shield to be used in times of dispute.  It’s the lifeblood of the project and having a recently accepted programme is the only way either party can really understand how the shared concept of the common problem is going to be dealt with.
  4. Spend the majority of time and effort pre contract on the Works Information and Site Information – if this is brilliantly written and compiled then any number of Z-clauses and changes to the equitable nature of the contract timescales won’t affect the team’s ability to collaborate.  As what is required, when and where will be simply described and easy to follow.
  5. Act consistently – when submitting and responding to quotations, programmes, payment assessments and any other communications behave in a consistent manner, the clauses of the contract don’t change and the principles of responses shouldn’t either.  In any relationship inconsistent behaviour will lead to distrust and reduce effective means of communication.
  6. Don’t forget to talk to each other! – People manage projects.  They are not managed by contracts or computer systems – they help and should make people more efficient and effective however nothing improves on co-location of teams, joint reviews of programmes, quotations, proposed instructions and any event where “two heads are better than one”.

It’s difficult to answer succinctly what the difference is between cooperation and collaboration however we all know it when we see it.  The NEC3 contract has been drafted to provide a cooperative platform and, as outlined above, we can build on that with good practice to create a collaborative environment “in a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation”.

Cooperation - 

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Collaboration - 

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Collaborative working is kept simple with CEMAR –

  • Shared registers and automated numbering of events to provide a single truth within a secure environment accessed by all parties.  Red, amber, green dashboard action trackers with ‘days to go’ countdowns and hardcopy PDF communications.
  • Acting as stated in this contract - through every piece of workflow CEMAR guides the user, only showing the available contractual options and dynamically updating to maintain compliance.  It also automatically generates and archives contractually compliant letters for all communications allowing a complete record to be created in order to protect all parties and for those of us who still like paper we can print off copies and take them to meetings just like the “good old days”!
  • CEMAR provides a fully compliant and flexible shared Risk Register, automatically populated with early warnings as they are notified and allowing for the addition of risk reduction proposals and updates of quantitative risk scoring.
  • Working within the timescales of the contract - CEMAR automatically generates a reminders desktop providing a snapshot of all the “live” actions requiring attention.  As a collaborative tool it allows parties to look at what actions are currently outstanding with the other and a live print out of this could be the agenda for a regular team meeting.  In keeping with contractual compliance CEMAR also allows requests and agreement on extensions to certain contract timescales.

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